Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Stoner: John Williams

Ironically, this is the best book I've read in awhile. John Williams' Stoner is a low-key book: quiet, understated, and unassuming, but I could not put it down, and could not stop thinking about the story. Written in 1965, "Stoner" is the story of Willim Stoner, a Missouri farmboy turned English university professor, and his quiet, troubled life. The prose is so moving, yet patient, and thoughtful, that it feels autobiographical, or that Williams has managed to capture Stoner's voice perfectly.

Stoner is born at the turn of the century into a rural farm family and believes he will live out his life there with his traditional, detached family. He goes to college on a program to teach him new rural science, and does just enough to get by without learning much of anything, and toiling away to earn his keep with a lazy family who treats him like a servant. When he takes an English class with a cruel but passionate professor, his life changes, and he knows he can't go back to farming. Soon, he meets a bizarre, sheltered, and perhaps disturbed young lady and plunges into married life. Life with Edith is never what it should be, and though Stoner shares a few years of bliss with his young daughter, Grace, Edith is a cruel and calculating woman. She uses Grace as a weapon against Stoner, and soon Stoner is all alone in his own house, banished to smaller and smaller worlds. Even his University is soon foreign to him, the Chair of the English department finds ways to make his life miserable.

Stoner is a convincing character through the still but epic prose. This is a keeper- one I may even come back to and reread.